July 13, 2018. Philadelphia, PA.
Let me set the scene for you. It is another beautiful, hatefully sunny day in Fishtown. Our hero, me, just finished ab day and a half hour of bagwork at the gym. The tank was empty. I needed and deserved a half pound of chicken.
I hobble outside and peel off my shirt, as only complete douchebags remove their shirt inside the gym, then drag my sweaty carcass onto my faithful steed Rocinante, an old Cannondale racing bike that I will discuss in greater detail in a lengthy and vitriolic upcoming critique of cycling conditions in Philadelphia.
I glide homeward, silent as death, blistering in the merciless light of the Daystar. I’m a few blocks out when I see some commotion, veritably a kerfuffle, occurring in a little park called Konrad Square. Never one to miss a kerfuffle, I pull my bike over to watch.
A crowd of ugly teens gathered around a pair of kids, one in his early twenties, the other looking to be about seventeen. Both were wearing boxing gloves, actively engaged in squaring up. They were still circling. A large girl was recording them on her phone, waiting for her moment to yell Worldstar.
“Get out of the road,” somebody murmured gently as their car passed me. I was in a parking spot, but a lot of people take personal offense to bicycles existing, so I pulled up onto the sidewalk. I didn’t have the spare emotional energy to react. It’s not every day you see an outdoor boxing match, especially one on concrete, despite the presence of grass everywhere in the park — in fact, the only trait qualifying it as a park.
Contact! The twentysomething advanced on the teenager and they threw blind flurries of the worst punches I’ve ever seen.
This continued for three seconds, then they clinched. The rest of the teens had that coiled, tense look, like a herd of deer waiting for the cue to bolt.
Enter a short, pear-shaped man in his mid-forties, stage left. He separates the kids for some reason. He is yelling.
“HOW OLD IS HE!” he demands to the twentysomething, of the teenager. “HOW OLD ARE YOU!”
The twentysomething peels off his shirt without removing his boxing gloves. It is exactly as funny as it sounds. My curiosity has turned to unrestrained delight. I am grinning on the fringes of the scene like the literal, Biblical devil.
“WHAT U GONNA DO?!” the twentysomething bellows, adding an expletive which is not “fella”, but could be substituted as such if you find yourself singing along with rap song while white. “WHAT THE FUCK U GONNA DO?”
The middle-aged man, being a middle-aged man, has no apparent interest in doing anything. The twentysomething remembers his boxing gloves and tears them off, hurling them to the ground. His blood is up. They are staring one another down.
Removal of the t-shirt was a terrible idea, if his goal was intimidation. The twentysomething is flabby, sloppy looking. 170 lbs, at a glance, 40 or 50 being fat. The pear-shaped man is about 150, and shorter. Though it would not be a clash of titans, the man understands that the odds are not on his side. They are still glaring. The twentysomething shoves the middle-aged guy, who stumbles, and they separate, bellowing shittalk across the park.
The teens have taken notice of me. Some eye me warily. I am half a foot taller and forty pounds heavier than the scariest participant in this ordeal, and they may have been discomfited by my evident glee.
“WHAT THE FUCK U GONNA DO?” he asks again, pounding at his chest, sending his stomach into a hypnotic flutter. The middle aged man has recovered his brass. He Nordic-Walks across the park and stands eye to eye with the twentysomething. They are inaudible at this distance. They are close enough to kiss.
I can’t take the sexual tension any longer.
“Gentlemen!” I yell. “There are gloves everywhere! This doesn’t have to get uglier!”
Unbelievably, no one laughs.
I think, in the deepest reaches of my soul, I wanted that belittling to provoke them into action. I’m sure I had some vague philanthropic duty to interject myself into the situation and make sure no one got hurt, but it really didn’t matter if someone did. If either had the gall to swing, they would have at first flush.
Being summarily dismissed during such a melodramatic situation would make them feel ridiculous, which would prompt one of three reactions:
- It would spark them to action against one another.
- It would make them feel silly and walk away.
- It would cause them to turn on me.
I didn’t anticipate the third. I saw the kind of punches that kid was throwing. In my heart of hearts, I was hoping for 1.
The fires well and fully guttered, the spell breaks. They separate, presumably calling each other pussies. The twentysomething returns to his flock of teens, where he clasps hands with the fifteen-year-old he failed to defeat in unarmed combat. The handshake looks complex. At some point, they snap their fingers in it.
“Yeah, he’s just over there watching,” I hear one of the teenagers say. The twentysomething looks at me. He holds my gaze for as long as he thought it would take for me to look away. I smile at him sunnily. He turns, strutting like he has won something, somewhere. Stretches his shoulders as he walks through the grass. He oversees his kingdom.
After a moment of hesitation, one of the kids calls to me, “… Okay, you can leave now.”
I look at the old buck walking across the park, at the sloppy twentysomething, back to the teen.
“Are you sure?”
He glances back at his buddy, who continues to pointedly ignore me in his lackadaisical non-victory lap.
“… Yeah,” he says.
“All right. Catch y’all next time!”
I give them the finger guns, kick Rocinante into gear, and scoot home.
I hope I didn’t lie. I hope there is a next time, some pangenerational Fishtown grudge match for supreme dominion of that 100 square feet of lawn. Sometimes, hope is all we have.